Sun | Feb 5, 2023

Letter of the Day | Remove mentally ill people from the streets

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2022 | 12:09 AM


For too long, Jamaicans have underestimated the seriousness of mental illness. Children and adults alike often poke fun at ‘mad people’ as they roam the streets. They give them names that are deemed to be funny and shout at them as they go about life inside their heads or world.

There are various forms of mental illness and at the severe end of the spectrum, the issue of whether mentally ill persons are dangerous is a delicate one. The US Department of Health and Mental Services says it is a myth that people with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable. According to the department, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only three to five per cent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”

However, the ordinary man has no clue what a mentally ill person is likely to do when they approach and so a natural reaction is to run away screaming as we often did back in primary school. Even as we jeer them, we also fear them. But who will care for them? Some families who attempt to care for their mentally ill loved ones, without professional help, sometimes end up being victims of violence inflicted by the ones for whom they are caregivers. Some attacks have resulted in death.


Meanwhile, others with the condition may be seen roaming towns and cities across the island, left to the mercy of ‘ordinary’ folks who see them as a threat, and sometimes, rightly so. Many of us have been affected by mental illness directly or indirectly. I have heard unfortunate stories from relatives, friends and neighbours who have been attacked by mentally ill persons as they went about their business. In all cases, the attackers were unprovoked and the victims did not see them coming from behind, and it all happened so fast. There is sometimes no recourse for the victim and the attacker remains on the prowl.

Part of the care of the mentally ill must involve their removal from the streets and placement in facilities where psychiatric professionals can provide appropriate care. It protects them from violence and it protects others from violent acts inflicted by some of them. Debating about whether they are dangerous or not does not solve the issue.

Importantly, we need to be a kinder society. Teasing mentally ill persons will yield no positive outcome. Mental illness is no joke.